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Judge Forbids Attorneys From Asking Potential Jurors If They Are Jewish In Cemetery Lawsuit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Hetherman   
Thursday, 26 December 2013 00:00

LOS ANGELES (CNS) –A judge will not allow lawyers to ask prospective jurors if they are Jewish in the upcoming trial of a lawsuit alleging mass disturbances of graves at a cemetery in Mission Hills and a failure by management to tell clients about the improper practices.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Marmaro ruled during a status conference that even though Eden Memorial Park is an exclusively Jewish cemetery, he did not believe it appropriate to directly ask jurors who are screened for the case about their ethnicity. He said the attorneys can instead ask if there is anything about their religious beliefs that could keep them from fairly evaluating both sides.

Marmaro, who noted he is himself Jewish, said he could change his mind if presented with case law stating such inquiries were proper.

Attorney Walter Yoka, who represents cemetery owners Service International Corp. and SCT California Funeral Services Inc., said that in most trials, it would not be appropriate to ask a juror if he or she is Jewish. But he said the current case is not typical.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Michael Avenatti argued that asking the prospective panelists if they are Jewish was improper. He said the case is about the lack of disclosure to more than 25,000 families who make up the class action in addition to the nine named plaintiffs.

“If we were talking about other religions and ethnicities, there would be outrage and rightfully so,'' Avenatti said. Avenatti said the class period extends from February 1985, when SCI acquired the cemetery, until the filing of the lawsuit in September 2009. The class members were induced to choose Eden Memorial Park instead of other burial grounds they would have selected had they known about the alleged misconduct there, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys court papers.

SCI attorney Walter Yoka said the plaintiffs’ lawyers were injecting ethnicity into the jury selection themselves by asking to probe for anti-Semitism and by noting that many of the cemetery employees they will call as witnesses are Latino.

The lawsuit alleges that SCI and its employees purposely desecrated hundreds of Jewish graves and improperly disposed of human remains and bones in mass graves located in areas of Eden Memorial Park.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have estimated damages at more than $500 million. Trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 21. In July 2012, the state Supreme Court denied SCI’s attempt to have Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr’s class-certification order overturned.

The lawsuit alleges that groundskeepers were repeatedly instructed by cemetery management to secretly break outer burial containers with a backhoe and remove, dump and/ or discard the human remains – including human skulls – in so-called “spoils piles” in order to make room for new burials. New graves were then placed over the areas where the discarded remains were placed, Avenatti alleged. He said he believes the alleged improper burial practices continue today at Eden Memorial Park.

All of the actions were done to increase profits, according to the lawsuit. SCI concealed the alleged fraudulent actions by threatening employees and witnesses with retaliation and the loss of their jobs, the complaint states.

Defense attorneys deny any wrongdoing on the part of the SCI companies. SCI attorney Steven Gurnee said the cemetery was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and that the materials the plaintiffs’ attorneys claims are human remains are actually concrete and other debris.

Stories about lawsuit were presented on CNN and on the CBS program “60 Minutes.”

Last Updated on Friday, 27 December 2013 17:37

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